Posts Tagged With: understanding

1 Corinthians 7: Marriage Isn’t Easy

This is a hard chapter to know how best to understand and apply what Paul says.  Yet, because it is talking about marriage, it is one that a lot of Christians end up in with some frequency.  I am afraid I have neither the space nor knowledge necessary to unravel all of the knots.  My only goal today is to lay done two boundary lines that might help us know where a good interpretation should land.  Unfortunately, these also produce more questions.

1.  Paul makes no bones about it, a lot of what he has to say in this chapter is only his opinion, as wise as that may be (7:6, 12, 25, 40). Paul himself says that much here is not binding on the reader:

I’m not saying this as a command, but as a concession. (7:6)

Maybe it helps to remember that verse 1 indicates this was a response from Paul about a question they had asked.  Could it be that we have uninspired opinions like these in the Bible?  Well, that is a Pandora’s Box if we agree, isn’t it?  It gets right down to the roots of what we mean when we say the Bible is truth.  Maybe we should view it like this?  I take seriously what certain church leaders say when I am seeking advice from them.  I don’t assume it is unquestionable and inspired truth, but I also feel like I better have a good reason not to take seriously their wisdom.

2.  The teachings in this chapter appear to be based on a premise that did not turn out to be the case: this present world is coming to an end very soon.

Just at the moment we are in the middle of a very difficult time. . . . The present situation won’t last long. . . . The pattern of this world, you see, is passing away. (7:26, 29, 31)

Many scholars believe this indicates that Paul had a view that Jesus would be returning in the near future.  Hence, people should “remain before God in the state in which they were called” (7:24; c.f., 17, 26, 40) because soon our present relationships would be over.  Of course, it has been 2000 years since Paul said that.  That is not exactly “very soon.”  One can say, “But Jesus could come any minute, so we should live like Jesus’ return is right around the corner.”  Maybe that is what Paul meant.  The problem with that logic is that, then, we all should do what this chapter says: remain in the situation we are present in — married, unmarried, widowed, enslaved, etc.  Christians don’t do that.

So, what do we do with a chapter like this?  I guess I prefer to look for big concepts that I also find elsewhere in the Bible and hang on to those.  Such as:  Marriage is a blessing.  God has provided a partner for each of us so that a physical and sexual life can be lived with purity and blessing.  At the same time, family is not the most important thing in life if you are a Christian; practically, marriage and a family does pull a person away from preaching the gospel and ministering to churches, as Paul says here (7:34).

If you are interested in reading more about how to interpret the Bible, check out this series of posts on my other blog.  These posts won’t answer all of our questions but they will show that understanding and applying the Bible to our lives today is not always as easy as we have thought.

What do you think about this complicated chapter?

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Romans 5: Grace All The More!

Down at the core of the gospel that this book of Romans is so much about (1:16-17) are two truths:

  • We are all a bunch of rascals.
  • But God can save us anyway.

The first point we don’t like to accept, especially in a culture where we grew up on self-esteem slogans and a foundational belief that all people are good.  The second point we absolutely love.  We deem it an inalienable right.  Though, I wonder if we can really appreciate the second point if we don’t fully accept the first.  Maybe that is why some of my favorite verses in the Bible are right here in this chapter:

While we were still weak, at that very moment he died on behalf of the ungodly. (5:6)

This is how God demonstrates his own love for us: the Messiah died for us while we were still sinners. (5:8)

When we were enemies, you see, we were reconciled to God through the death of his son. (5:10)

Where sin increased, grace increased all the more. (5:20)

It’s all about grace, and when we forget that we get out of alignment.  Then we sell our uniqueness and settle for something that is just like everything else.

Thank God for His abundant grace!

Categories: Romans | Tags: , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Matthew 17: The Transforming Word

This chapter is maybe best known for the Transfiguration.  N. T. Wright does something nice here in his translation by avoiding the archaic word “transfigure” in 17:2 and he uses the more common word for the Greek word metamorpho here, “transformed.”  Jesus was “transformed.”  This is the same word in Romans 12:2 and 2 Corinthians 3:18, two popular verses.

Interestingly, the experience of the Transfiguration did not transform the apostles understanding about John the Baptist.  Jesus used the prophetic image of “Elijah” coming again in the last days (17:11-12), but maybe because Peter, James and John has just seen the real, historical Elijah they were stuck on that one.  It was not their incredible experience that changed their understanding, it was the words of Jesus that helped them realize he was really talking about John the Baptist as a “new Elijah.”

But let me tell you this. . . . Then the disciples realized that he was talking to them about John the Baptist. (17:12-13)

They were changed by words, not just an experience.

We saw this back one chapter ago, too.  Jesus had told the disciples to be careful of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees (16:5) and they thought he was talking about bread.  They had had a lot of experience with bread around that time with the two miraculous feedings, but they didn’t realize what Jesus was really talking about until he spoke an explanation to them.

Then they understood that he wasn’t telling them to beware of the leaven you get in bread, but of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees. (16:12)

I am enough of a postmodernist to really appreciate experiences.  I am a Bible student by training, but I want more than just words.  I was right there in the late 1990s putting down J. I. Packer’s Knowing God and picking up Henry Blackaby’s Experiencing God because I wanted more than just knowledge of God.  I experience God in special ways in praise and worship, in service to the poor, and in the laughter and intimacy of true fellowship with believers.

Still there are many times that full understanding only really comes for me from the words of Jesus.  My heart is made tender by experience, but the words are what create true transformation.  For us today, that means an open Bible.  I am so appreciative that you have decided to be a part of this reading community.  I learn from you as you share, and simply the knowledge that you read (most importantly) your Bibles and (secondarily) this blog keeps me accountable and on track.  Then, God does with His words what only He can do: He transforms you and me by the “renewing our our minds.”

What struck you in this chapter?   

Categories: Matthew | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

Matthew 13: The Kingdom of Heaven Is Like

I absolutely love the parables.  They are most certainly my favorite form of literature in the gospels.  Matthew has packed this chapter full of them.

They are wonderful word pictures, for those of us who are more visual than verbal.  They pack meaning for those of us who like a good symbol.  They are memorable and popular.  They also teach fantastic lessons about life and how to live life.  But first and foremost, parables tell us about life in God’s kingdom.

The kingdom of heaven is like . . .

  • a farmer sowing wheat on various kinds of soil with differing results
  • a field of wheat maliciously oversown by weeds that has to wait to be weeded out then harvested
  • a mustard seed that grows of a mere speck to a large, useful shrub
  • leaven that works its way throughout an entire pot of flour
  • a priceless treasure one might stumble upon in a field but then that’s worth selling everything you have to buy
  • a pearl hunter who sells off his fortune when he finds the biggest and best pearl ever
  • a net that gathers all sorts of fish that will have to be sorted out later

Some pieces of art or music or literature are just better appreciated in their original state without much explanation.  I do believe that is often true of the parables.  So, today I am running the risk of ruining great art.  Please forgive.  What is Jesus saying about the kingdom in these parables?

The kingdom of heaven is mysterious:  There is no telling when we will brush up against true Kingdom.  We might be in the middle of our everyday tasks and run upon a move of God that is unlike anything we have ever seen before.  We might simply be walking home, and over there in the corner of a yard under a tree, where we least expected it, will be something more valuable than anything we have.  We just thought it was another hum-drum day, but this is the day that changes our life.

The kingdom of heaven is valuable:  In a world that often lacks any substance or value, when we find God’s Kingdom, we will do anything to have it.  It is worth more than anything we presently have.  We know this is something real and valuable.  It might necessitate a relocation or a restructuring of our life, but we will gladly do it.  There will be sacrifices, but they are small in comparison.

The kingdom of heaven grows abundantly:  The Kingdom usually starts in humble beginnings.  We might look at it and say this won’t amount to much, but often that is exactly where God plants the seeds of His Kingdom and they grow into something that is so much bigger than what we could do ourselves.  And those pursuits bring help and nourishment to others.

The kingdom of heaven is messy:  This isn’t going to go smoothly.  God is working to advance His Kingdom in this world, but there are powers of evil and darkness that want the same soul-territory.  Right alongside Kingdom will be anti-kingdom.  There are people who will swallow up any seed of hope we might plant in another person.  “The world’s worries and the seduction of wealth” choke our devotion like thorns and strong weeds (13:22).  Purification and complete rescue won’t come until the end.

Those with ears to hear and eyes to see will know where Jesus is coming from.  Others won’t.  For some Jesus is just too familiar.  But those who do hear and see are more blessed than even the prophets of old (13:16-17).

Which parable resonates most strongly with you in this reading?  Why?

Categories: Matthew | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Hebrews 5: Experience Required

Although he [Jesus] was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered.  When he had been made complete and perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him, since he has been designated by God as a high priest according to the order of Melchizedek. (5:8-10)

Maybe it was because of the discussion I had with Umm Muhammad on yesterday’s post that I was especially drawn to these verses today.  Let me anticipate the questions: If Jesus is God, can God learn to obey (and does he need to)?  Was Jesus not already “complete and perfect” before the cross?  Are these verses somehow diminishing the moral quality of Jesus?

In his popular level commentary on Hebrews in the For Everyone series, N. T. Wright explains this passage using a story about a rich business owner and his son who has just graduated from college and is now ready to take his spot in the family business.  One might expect the father to place the son in a posh corner office with a high position and the pay grade to match.  But the father does not.  He puts the son at an entry-level position and has the son rise through the ranks learning the business as he goes.  As a result, when the son does rise to upper management he is a far better leader who understands his trade and his workers better.

Wright said it this way: blood made the man a son, but experience made him a boss.

"Christ in Gethsemane" by Michael O'Brien

Many scholars think the Hebrews author is thinking about Jesus’ Gethsemane experience when he or she writes this.  Jesus’ ultimate act of submission was to face the reality that within hours he would drink the cup of God’s wrath and to humbly accept this propitiatory role though he wished otherwise.  When he had “completed” the journey to that point or finished the course, he had arrived “perfectly” at the point of pure obedience.  Perfect in this context means everything was in place and nothing was lacking, not that Jesus was somehow imperfect or morally deficient before this point.  Furthermore, the Hebrew author emphasizes the point that obedience is a “learning” experience, even as it was for Jesus.  Through a lifetime as a human, Jesus was learning the ins and outs of obedience: that it truly is the best route; what it means to obey in a fallen world; what humans must face to faithfully obey; to feel the true temptation that comes with humanity but also the transformation that comes with obedience.  Can an omniscient God know these things?  That would seem logical.  So it seems the knowledge that comes through experience was still required, at least for Jesus.

To mimic Wright’s conclusion above, blood made Jesus a son, but experience made Jesus the perfect high priest.

Personally, I am ever so thankful that my Savior truly understands in the most intimate ways what my life is like.  That actually makes me love him and respect him all the more.

What caught your eye in this short chapter?

Categories: Hebrews | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Acts 26: The Wounded Healer

I have to admit I don’t think of Jesus saying much more to Paul on the road to Damascus than verse 15.  I have missed the great richness in verses 16-18 of this third version of Paul’s conversion in the book of Acts.  I was especially drawn this time to the first part of verse 18:

I will rescue you . . . so that you can open their eyes to enable them to turn from darkness to light. (26:18a)

Remember the context of this original story.  Jesus was saying this to a blinded Paul, a Paul who was experiencing nothing but darkness.

I imagine if I were Paul I would have been saying, “Open my eyes!  Help me to turn from darkness to light!”

Maybe that was the point of God’s choice to blind Paul.

Drawing on the work of Carl Jung, the now-passed Roman Catholic priest and scholar Henri Nouwen once wrote a great little book called “The Wounded Healer.”  His main premise is that just as we see over and over again in the Scriptures, God usually chooses to use “wounded,” broken people to become the “healers” of others.  Nouwen even argues that one cannot adequately do the work of a healer until we face, accept and even embrace our own woundedness.  Then, just like Jesus who allowed himself to be emptied of glory and wounded on a criminal’s cross, we are really prepared for God’s work.

God’s way of working is beautiful and poignant!

What did you see today?

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Acts 16: Spiritual Discernment

Happy Valentine’s Day

I have always been drawn to the following passage:

They went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia, since the holy spirit had forbidden them to speak the word in the province of Asia.  When they came to Mysia, they tried to go into Bithynia, but the spirit of Jesus didn’t allow them to do so. . . . Then a vision appeared to Paul in the night . . . When he saw the vision, at once we set about finding a way across to Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the good news to them. (16:6-10)

I am convinced spiritual discernment is a huge topic I have neglected.  I think that is because I come to passages like this one and I leave confused.  I just can’t see my way forward into the topic.

How do we know the will of the Spirit?  How did Paul know the Spirit had forbidden them from going into Asia and Bithynia?  Was it that sixth-sense “knowing” that many of us feel at times, or was it something more?  Was this knowledge from a prophecy he had received?  The Macedonian Call came through a vision; was that how he discerned the stops on his journey?  Then we come to the word “concluding” in verse 10 and it seems some level of reason and deliberation was involved, but to what degree?

Some are sure that every whim and fancy is a message from God.  Others say God gave us a brain and expects us to use it, and the implication often is to use it to the exclusion of all other options.  I am convinced the way forward is somewhere between these extremes, as we see in this passage.  I would like to learn and experience more on this topic.

Do you have wisdom on this matter you can share?  

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Acts 2: They Begin to Get It

This is such an incredible chapter!

I don’t say that because I have been programmed to by my religious tradition that has exalted this chapter since the beginning of the Restoration Movement almost 200 years ago.  They often championed this chapter as a blueprint for receiving Christ in a particular way.  That is certainly in here, but that kind of reductionism misses the point.

Acts 2 is a sunburst of spiritual power.  The original Great Awakening.  It is the start of something new, though it was spoken of  long ago (Acts 2:16-21).  So many things we have been seeing are coming together here, and so many things will launch out from here.  The Celts would have called this one of those “thin places” where heaven touches earth in an explosion of energy, awareness, ability, and change.  Now that is a reason to exalt a chapter!

Amongst other points, this chapter is so wonderful because the apostles finally begin to get this kingdom Jesus has been talking about.

  • They begin to see that “Death” is the real enemy that has to be vanquished not Rome, and that the battle was waged on a cross and in a tomb not in Judea (2:24, 27, 31-32)
  • They were able to grasp that Jesus was the fulfillment of the promise to David to have a descendent on the throne, but that this was a different sort of throne (2:30-31)
  • They boldly claimed that “Jesus is Lord” (2:36) instead of saying “Caesar is Lord,” a common cry by the AD 60s when Acts was written if not in the AD 30s when the actual events took place.  Somehow it was possible for Jesus to be Lord even while Caesar was on a throne.
  • They were understanding that the greatest tyranny comes at the hands of Sin, and the greatest freedom is from this enemy (2:38, 40, 47)
  • They were switching from a worldview that said Israel is our most important allegiance to seeing the fledgling collection of Jesus-followers as the Great Community (2:42-47)

Notice, they didn’t really get it in Acts 1.  Now they begin to in Acts 2.  What changed?  What happened?  The only thing that changed was the outpouring of the Holy Spirit of God.  God is changing them from the inside out.

Let your Spirit come!  Fall upon us now!

What spoke to you anew in this very familiar chapter?  

Categories: Acts | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 18 Comments

Mark 9: The Enigmatic Teacher

(We have just finished half of the first book.  Good job!  Keep it up!)

So Jesus calls a woman a dog.  And tells people to get ready to die.  He scolds his most loyal follower and calls him Satan.  He says the way to be first is to be last.  Today he seems to condone maiming oneself (Surely not literal, right?  Go read Flannery O’Connor’s “Wise Blood” if you think physically blinding oneself would eliminate a spiritual problem like sin).  This Jesus is such an enigma!

I understand why it says twice in today’s chapter that his followers were confused:

They held on to this saying amount themselves, puzzling about what this “rising from the dead” might mean. (9:10)

They didn’t understand the saying, and were afraid to ask him. (9:32)

I am convinced that much like the apostles were finding out, following Jesus is not as easy and clear-cut as we sometimes make it.  I think, as someone said on here last week, that is why this whole enterprise is called “faith.”

However, we know, by the end, because of the Holy Spirit most of all (contrast the apostles in Acts 1 and Acts 2 and ask yourself what is the only thing that changes), that they did get it.  The tough shell of their everyday thinking cracked open and spiritual wisdom was birthed.  Timidity gave way to boldness.  Those that ran from the cross, ran to their own crosses — sometimes literally.  A Pharisee became the greatest missionary ever.

There is hope for us still.  Because God is good.  Because today is “Friday” but “Sunday’s” coming.  Because God’s not done with us yet!

What is one thing about Jesus that you have begun to understand a whole lot better than you did before?  

Categories: Mark | Tags: , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

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